Aliya Stories: The pen and the sword

For this decorated soldier, the Hebrew letters are now the tools of his trade.

Kalman Delmoor at work in his office in the Old City of Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kalman Delmoor at work in his office in the Old City of Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kalman Delmoor has come a long way since he was born in New York in 1988 to a Jewish mother and gentile father, who gave him the name Kyle.
“My parents are both spiritual people, and my father converted when he married my mother, but it wasn’t until later that they became Orthodox,” says Delmoor, who came to Israel in 2007 and made aliya two years later.
Today he works as a sofer stam (scribe) and calligrapher and is part of the Jerusalem Fifth Quarter, an art gallery and artists’ colony located in the Jewish Quarter of the capital’s Old City.
“I sit there as the house scribe and interact with people all day,” says Delmoor.
“I’ve also done scribal workshops, and I like to focus on the esoteric meaning of the letters.”
The Hebrew letters are the tools of his trade, and he sees in them a special significance.
“Every letter is a world unto itself, just as is every human being,” he says with conviction. Asked which is his favorite letter, he says he loves all Hebrew letters, but the shin is probably one of the most interesting letters in the alef-bet.
Delmoor explains that the shin is considered one of the most symmetrical letters.
It also evokes thoughts of fire, and of course it is the first letter of Shabbat, he adds.
The gallery was founded less than two years ago by an American businessman, Yehuda Kremer, who was visiting Jerusalem, saw the Jerusalem Light Show and felt there was no religious content.
“He went to the city council and asked why there was no authentic Jewish side to the show, and he was told ‘You do it,’” says Delmoor. “That’s when he decided that he would first open an artists’ colony and see how that went.”
His work includes maps of Israel made up of the words of “Hatikva” and globes with words from the traditional religious texts. He also inscribes the parchment for mezuzot and does custom- made ketubot (marriage certificates).
“I design the form of the writing – it can be in the shape of a dove, a ball, even a piano – whatever the customer wants – and I give it to the artist who then illuminates it,” explains Delmoor.
“Basically, I take their idea and express it visually.”
“Today it takes me a few days to inscribe a marriage certificate, but I have increased my speed the more I work,” he says. One day he hopes that he will be able to write a complete Torah scroll.
Delmoor grew up in Minnesota, and after junior high school his parents sent him to a yeshiva boarding school in Memphis and later in Skokie, Illinois.
Although today he is seriously observant, he went through a rebellious period in his teens.
“I was pretty wild,” he recalls now.
“To me Judaism seemed old and not relevant; I was definitely walking the line.”
He came to Israel in his gap year and studied at a yeshiva in Jerusalem, where he met modern-Orthodox kids and found himself at home with them. Returning to the US, he got a job in a summer camp but felt things had changed.
“Israel had had a very strong influence on me,” he says. “I had woken up to something and I saw deeper into things.”
As soon as he could, he came back to Israel, but this time as an official immigrant.
“I was in a yeshiva in Otniel for twoand- a-half years, and then I was drafted into the army as a new immigrant,” he says.
He was not obligated to serve more than a year and a half in the army, and the rest of the time would be spent in study. But he felt this was wrong.
“I signed on for more time and was in the paratroopers,” he says.
As to the future, he has a vision to create a line of Judaic artwork that will be a powerful art form.
“At the moment Judaica is very traditional and conformist – it’s not new age and it’s not getting the young people engaged,” he says. “You have what is considered mainstream artwork, but from a Jewish perspective it lacks content. For me Judaica artwork has to be meaningful as well as aesthetically beautiful.”
After he completed his army service, he was awarded a medal in 2013 as a model soldier, and at the ceremony where he was to receive the award, the commanding officer was Brig.-Gen.
Amir Baram, who at the time was commander of the paratroopers.
When it came to Delmoor’s turn, he pinned on the medal and asked him if he was a lone soldier.
“I’m a lone soldier, but not lonely,” said Delmoor. “All the people of Israel are with me.”